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Imagine if a country sent its fleet of ships to the United States, stormed America’s beaches, and proceeded to take control of the northern third of our nation. Imagine that Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and dozens of other cities were occupied by foreign armed forces and that everyone originally residing in those cities was forced to flee south, abandoning their ancestral homes and private property in the process.

That is the harsh reality Cypriots have lived since 1974.

In the summer of 1974, Turkish forces invaded the Republic of Cyprus. The takeover of the northern third of the island was swift and brutal. Hundreds of thousands of Cypriots fled their homes, triggering a massive humanitarian crisis that exists to this day.

Over 5,000 Cypriots were killed during the invasion while hundreds of thousands of refugees were ethnically cleansed and forced into concentration camps. Excavations and DNA testing continue to this day to locate the thousands that are missing and to bring closure to their families.

Why did Turkey invade Cyprus?

Cypriots of Greek and Turkish decent lived peacefully side by side for hundreds of years. During a period of intercommunal tension, Turkey hatched plans to partition Cyprus.  On July, 20, 1974, under the pretense of protecting Turkish Cypriots and restoring the constitutional government of the Republic of Cyprus, Turkey invaded the island and occupied about 4 percent of Cyprus.  On August 14, 1974, three weeks after the constitutional government of Cyprus was restored, Turkey launched a second phase of its invasion.  The final result was Turkish occupation of 38% of Cyprus, 170,000 Greek-Cypriot refugees, and approximately 1,500 missing Greek-Cypriots.

On November 15, 1983, the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” declared itself to be an independent state. No other country in the world except for Turkey recognizes the legitimacy of the “TRNC.” In the photo above, a “TRNC” flag is emblazoned upon the Kyrenia Mountains in northern Cyprus.

What does the international community say about Cyprus?

The reaction to Turkey’s illegal seizure of Cyprus territory and its treatment of the Cypriot people received immediate and widespread disapproval by the international community. The United Nations Security Council adopted nine resolutions within forty days after the invasion, calling for “immediate end to foreign military intervention,” demanding the immediate removal of occupying forces from the island, and recording its “formal disapproval of the unilateral military actions undertaken against the Republic of Cyprus.” You can read the U.N.’s resolution on Cyprus here.

Since then, the United Nations and the European Parliament have repeatedly called on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Cyprus and to transfer Famagusta to the United Nations in accordance with Resolution 550 (1984) of the United Nations Security Council.  The European Court of Human Rights has consistently found Turkey in violation of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights due to its actions in Cyprus Turkey refuses to comply with international law. The self-declared “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is recognized only by Turkey. No other country in the world acknowledges occupied Cyprus as an independent state.

What’s the solution to the Cyprus problem?

The only viable solution is one by Cypriots, for Cypriots. The Cypriot people deserve a free republic, one without foreign troops patrolling their streets and one where they have the right to return to their homes.

The Republic of Cyprus is committed to a settlement between the two communities and a reunified state with a single sovereignty and international personality, as defined by relevant Security Council resolutions, as the goal. A united Cyprus is the only solution that respects the sovereignty of that nation and the history of its people.

Unfortunately, Turkey continues to oppose such a solution. In blatant disregard for international law, Turkey has chosen to colonize Cyprus by sending hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens to live in Cypriot homes and neighborhoods.

New Confidence Building Measures

The U.N. is again holding a series of talks aimed at bringing stability and peace to the island, with talks expected to commence in the fall of 2013.  In anticipation of those talks, the new Cypriot government, lead by President Nicos Anastasiades, has set forth various confidence building measures aimed at reinvigorating the negotiation process. Chief among them is a renewed proposal to facilitate the return of the “ghost town” of Famagusta, a town which has remained essentially frozen in time since Turkey’s 1974 invasion.

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades

In 1984, the United Nations Security Council adopted UNSC resolution 550 which, in addition to calling upon all states to respect the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of the Republic of Cyprus, considered any attempts to settle any part of Varosha (Famagusta) by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and called for the transfer of this area to the administration of the United Nations. Since then, the European Parliament and the United Nations have repeatedly reiterated their demand that the occupying regime relinquish control of this area.

In a recent address at The Brookings Institution, Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides outlined the new proposal that would facilitate the return of Varosha and Famagusta as a whole.  Specifically, the Cypriot government has proposed the following in exchange for the return of the ghost town of Famagusta:

  • Lifting the Cypriot veto on certain chapters of the accession negotiation of Turkey with the European union
  • Permitting world trade, direct trade of the Turkish Cypriot community through the Port of Famagusta under the supervision of  the European union

As Minister Kaoulides stressed, “such a big step will tremendously change the whole climate, and it will become the game changer” for the UN’s fall negotiations.

Why is Cyprus so important to America’s foreign policy?

The Republic of Cyprus has proven itself a reliable partner to the United States on issues of international concern, including countering terrorist-related activities and threats to international peace and security. Cyprus – with the world’s sixth largest ship registry – was the first European Union country to permit the U.S. navy to board and search ships bearing its flag if they are thought to carry WMD-related material. Throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Cyprus has provided over-flight and landing rights to U.S. aircraft and port access for U.S. ships. Furthermore, during the Lebanon crisis of 2006, Cyprus served as the principal transit location for thousands of U.S. citizens evacuating Lebanon. In 2009, the Republic of Cyprus, in close cooperation with the U.S., halted a shipment of arms believed intended for Hamas from Iran.

Recently, a large deposit of natural gas has been discovered off of Cyprus’s shores. An American company, Noble Energy, is leading the exploration of that natural resource. Turkey has threatened to send its warships into the area to prevent Cyprus (and Noble Energy) from undertaking the project.  For America’s national security and for its economic interest, Turkey’s occupation of and threats against Cyprus must end.

The Cypriot Economic Crisis

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Cyprus’s recession began in 2009 and worsened over time, due in large part to overexposure to Greek debt . In the spring of 2013, the troika agreed to a €10 billion deal with Cyprus. In an unprecedented move, the troika’s deal called for a one-off bank deposit levy of 6.7% on deposits up to €100,000 and 9.9% for higher deposits. Capital controls were implemented. Both the proposed bank deposit levy and the capital controls caused massive protests. Ultimately, the Cypriot government failed to ratify that initial proposal. A revised deal that did not require parliamentary approval was eventually agreed to, restructuring Cyprus’s banks, preserving all insured deposits below €100,000 and levying 40% of uninsured deposits in Bank of Cyprus. 

The so-called “bail-in” has drawn international criticism of the IMF, the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the Eurogroup. Many analysts and economists point out that holding depositors liable for bank failures sets a dangerous precedent that should concern all European citizens, as the “Cyprus model” marks “a radical change of course since the crisis began three years ago.”

The Turkish government and its occupying regime in Cyprus, meanwhile, have attempted to use the Cypriot economic crisis as a leverage point in negotiations on the reunification of the island. The UN’s envoy in Cyprus has stated unequivocally that “it would be a ‘major mistake’ for the international community to take advantage of Cypriots’ current financial crisis to pressure them into a deal.”

We are all prisoners of knowledge. To know how Cyprus was betrayed, and to have studied the record of that betrayal, is to make oneself unhappy and to spoil, perhaps for ever, one’s pleasure for visiting one of the world’s most enchanting islands. Nothing will ever restore the looted treasures, the bereaved families, the plundered villages, the groves and hillsides scalded with napalm. Nor will anything mitigate the record of the callous, and crude politicians who regarded Cyprus as something on which to scribble their inane and conceited designs. But fatalism would be the worst betrayal of all. The acceptance, the legitimization of what was done – those things must be repudiated. Such a refusal has a value beyond Cyprus in showing that acquiescence in injustice is not ‘realism’. Once the injustice has been set down and described, and called by its right name, acquiescence in it becomes impossible. That is why one writes about Cyprus in sorrow but more – much more – in anger. - Christopher Hitchens, “Hostage in History: Cyprus” 1997

Cyprus Infographic

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